When BlackBerry announced there would be two initial models of smartphone built upon their BlackBerry 10 platform, many expected to have their choice right away.
But the BlackBerry Q10, the version of the device with the physical keyboard, has lagged behind the Z10 by several months. In Canada, the Z10 was released on February 5th. Today, Telus announced that the Q10 will begin shipping on April 29th.
The delay was characterized by some as another in a long line of missteps for the Canadian smartphone maker. But I don’t think it will be remembered that way.
Whether purposefully or through some soon-to-be happy accident, the gap between the two BlackBerry devices will eventually look like a well-played product rollout. In fact, I think the release of the Z10 has served as mere trial run for more the much more important Q10 release. BlackBerry has had a chance to run a sort of beta test of the operating system with millions of users and the results have been good. The reception on the device has been largely positive. And while we don’t know the sales numbers yet, there have been a couple notable orders, including the largest in the company’s history.
But both Bay Street and Wall Street have yawned. BlackBerry is up a few dollars on the year, but the short position has grown to an all-time high. A lot of investors are betting against BlackBerry. I think these people have a lot of data in mind, but are missing the most important signal.
I know many long time BlackBerry users who have check out the Z10 and have been impressed with the feature rundown. They like the BlackBerry Hub, the “timeshift” camera, the fast browser. But they are waiting on the physical keyboard. Through all the talk of apps and cameras and video conferencing, many are simply forgetting that most -yes most- BlackBerry users are loyal to the brand because they simply love its proprietary physical keyboard.
How many people is this? There are just under 80-million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide. My bet is about half of them are wanting to upgrade to a newer phone and most of those people are waiting for the Q10. Analyst Tom Astle derived a $18 target on BlackBerry while modeling just 23-million BlackBerrys sold in total this year, rising to 31-million in fiscal 2015. Nonetheless, he described how BlackBerry could sell 40-million BlackBerrys this year in a recent research report.
There’s also a rumour that the Chinese government has already placed an order for two-million Q10 devices.
And then there’s the rest of the world. Cormark analyst Richard Tse notes that, so far, half of Z10 sales have come from non-BlackBerry platforms. That’s a surprising number. I don’t expect that will be the case with the Q10, but anywhere near that will be an added bump to what I anticipate will be underestimated demand for the upcoming device.